XHTML2 & XForms

Steven Pemberton, W3C/CWI, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

About me

Researcher at the Dutch national research centre CWI (first European Internet site)

Co-designed the programming language ABC, that was later used as the basis for Python

In the late 80's designed and built a browser, with extensible markup, stylesheets, vector graphics, client-side scripting, etc. Ran on Mac, Unix, Atari ST

Organised 2 workshops at the first Web conference in 1994

Co-author of HTML4, CSS, XHTML, XML Events, XForms, etc

Chair of W3C HTML and Forms working groups

Until recently Editor-in-Chief of ACM/interactions.

HTML: a great success

But has become a sort of Garden of Eden, with lots of Thou Shalt Nots in the form of guidelines

etc, etc, etc

And these communities have all come to the HTML working group to ask for new facilities.

XHTML2: The next generation in the X/HTML family

In designing XHTML2, a number of design aims were kept in mind to help direct the design. These included:

As generic XML as possible: if a facility exists in XML, try to use that rather than duplicating it. This means that it already works to a large extent in existing browsers (main missing functionality XForms and XML Events).

Less presentation, more structure: use stylesheets for defining presentation.

More usability: within the constraints of XML, try to make the language easy to write, and make the resulting documents easy to use.

More accessibility: 'designing for our future selves' – the design should be as inclusive as possible.

XHTML2 (more)

Better internationalization.

More device independence: new devices coming online, such as telephones, PDAs, tablets, televisions and so on mean that it is imperative to have a design that allows you to author once and render in different ways on different devices, rather than authoring new versions of the document for each type of device.

Better forms: after a decade of experience, we now know how to make forms a better experience.

Less scripting: achieving functionality through scripting is difficult for the author and restricts the type of user agent you can use to view the document. We have tried to identify current typical usage, and include those usages in markup.

Better semantics: integrate XHTML into the Semantic Web.

Try to please as many people at once

Keep old communities happy

Keep new communities happy

Backwards compatibility

Earlier versions of HTML claimed to be backwards compatible with previous versions.

For instance, HTML4

<meta name="author" content="Steven Pemberton"> 

puts the content in an attribute and not in the content of the element for this reason.

In fact, the only version of HTML that is in any sense backwards compatible is XHTML1 (others all added new functionality like forms and tables).

XHTML2 takes advantage of CSS not to be element-wise backwards compatible, but architecturally backwards compatible.

For instance, as mentioned already, much of XHTML2 works already in existing browsers.

A Simple Example

XHTML2 is recognisably a family member:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2002/06/xhtml2/" xml:lang="en">
    <title>Virtual Library</title>
    <p>Moved to <a href="http://example.org/">example.org</a>.</p>

XHTML2: "the one bright light"

"Simple functionality and common sense appear – at least temporarily – to have triumphed over byzantine theological imperatives."

"Is this a bright and shining star? I think so."

Structure and Presentation

Remove all presentation-oriented elements

Add more structuring elements

Use CSS for all presentation

The use of stylesheets

See www.csszengarden.com

One single HTML file, with hundreds of beautiful, breathtaking stylesheets

One single HTML file



One of the biggest problems for non-sighted people with many HTML pages is working out what the structure is. Often the only clue is the level of header used (h1, h2 etc), and often they are not used correctly.

To address this, in XHTML2 you can now make the structure of your documents more explicit, with the <section> and <h> elements.

   <h>A heading</h>
      <h>A lower-level heading</h>

Structuring advantages

Advantages include:

h1-h6 are currently still available.


It is amazing how little issues can take so much effort.

A question that we often had to address was "is <hr> presentational?"

The Japanese community were also asking for a <vr>.

And then we had an aha moment...

James Joyce Ulysses

James Joyce Ulysses <hr>

James Joyce Ulysses

James Joyce Ulysses <hr>

James Joyce Ulysses

James Joyce Ulysses <hr>


These are all <hr>s! <hr> is not presentational, but structural: a lightweight section separator.

The only thing wrong with <hr> is that it is not (necessarily) horizontal, and not (necessarily) a rule!

We already needed a separator element for navigation lists, so we just decided to do away with all the confusion and rename <hr> to <separator>.

Better paragraphs

A paragraph is now much closer to what people perceive as a paragraph. For instance, this is now allowed:

<p>Advantages include:
   <li>easier to cut and paste and keep your heading levels consistent.</li>
   <li>importing sections in PHP-like situations</li>
   <li>you are no longer restricted to 6 levels of header.</li>


You might be surprised to know that <img> was not in the original HTML.

<img> is actually badly designed:

So what we have done is allowed the src attribute on any element. The image replaces the element content, and the element content is fallback. Essentially we have added fallback, moved the longdesc into the document, merged it with alt, and allowed it to be marked up all in one go.

<p src="map.gif">Walk down the steps from the platform
   turn left, and walk on to the end of the street</p>

Image types

HTML4 has the 'type' attribute in a number of places as a hint to the browser as to what it could expect if it went and got a resource.

But it is pretty useless. Some browsers ignore it, some don't.

Now it is a specification of the type, and meshes with the HTTP accept: field.

This means that

<p src="map" type="image/gif">...

will give you a GIF, or otherwise give you the fallback.

Similarly, you can write:

<p src="map" type="image/png, image/gif">...


<p src="map" type="image/*">...

Whitespace and pre

In HTML the only method to retain whitespace in content is with <pre>.

IN XHTML2, all elements can use the attribute layout="relevant".

<p class="poem" layout="relevant">

This doesn't impose a fixed-width font on the output, just that spaces and newlines are preserved.


<br/> splits a paragraph into different parts, but they are unaddressable with CSS.

So instead of a breaking element, XHTML2 uses a structuring element:

<p>Steven Pemberton<br/>

is now

<p><l>Steven Pemberton</l>

This gives you many more presentational possibilities, such as automatic numbering of lines, or colouring of alternate lines, etc.


In a non-backwards compatible step, HTML4 allowed any element to become the target of a link (with id on any element).

XHTML2 extends this by now allowing any element to become the source of a link as well, by allowing href anywhere.

So, instead of

<li><a href="http://www.w3.org/">W3C</a></li>

you may now write

<li href="http://www.w3.org/">W3C</li>

though <a> is still available.

Navigation lists

One thing you see everywhere on the web are menus for navigation, implemented with script.

XHTML2 now supports these natively:

<li href="/">Home</li>
<li href="/TR/">Technical reports</li>

Whether they are presented as menus, or in some other way, depends on the platform, the stylesheet, etc.

dir, edit

Certain things that used to be done with elements are now done with attributes: <ins> <del> <bdo>

<p edit="inserted">


<span dir="rlo">...


In certain places in HTML4/XHTML1 you can say that an element applies only to a specific media, like:

<style media="print" ...>...

This now applies across XHTML2, to any element.

<p media="screen">This text is only visible on a screen,
   not on the printed or projected version</p>


Metadata is becoming one of the most important new features of the web. The Semantic Web community has been working for years to integrate metadata properly with XHTML.

Metadata is sprinkled across HTML in lots of places:

etc etc.

XHTML2 creates a unified story about metadata, by relating it to RDF, however without confronting the HTML author with RDF.


RDF is a concept, with several possible external representations (or serialisations, as they are referred to).

Essentially, RDF consists of a collection of facts, or more properly assertions.

Each assertion is about some resource (identified by a URL), and gives a property that that resource has, and a value for that property.

The property is always identified by a URL.

The value of the property may be a URL, a string, or a piece of XML.

RDF Terminology

Unfortunately, the RDF community tends to use terminology that refers to the mechanics of RDF, rather than its purpose.

So they call an assertion a triple, call the thing it is about the subject, the property a predicate, and the value of the property the object.

So be it.


So when we say that the title of this document is "XHTML2 and XForms", and its author is called Steven Pemberton, we say

<http://www.w3.org/2005/...this document...> <http://.../title> "XHTML2 and XForms"

<http://www.w3.org/2005/...this document...> <http://.../creator> "Steven Pemberton"

So what?

RDF is the basis for the Semantic Web

It is a very simple mechanism for representing knowledge.

There are RDF databases and inference engines emerging that can represent the knowledge, and work out conclusions from it.

If a search engine or a browser can work out more about your document than just the text that is in it, searches and other interactions can become better.

For instance, if it can work out that in a page the text "the prime minister" refers to Tony Blair, then a search for Tony Blair could take you to that page, even if it doesn't mention him by name.

If the browser can work out that some text is an address, it can offer to add it to your address book, or find it on a map.

If a browser can work out that some text is for a conference, it could offer to add it to your calendar, or find flights and hotels.

RDF Serialisations

As mentioned, there are several RDF serialisations, such as 'triples' (above), and RDF/XML.

XHTML2 introduces a new representation for RDF assertions by leveraging the existing <meta> and <link> elements of HTML.

RDF/XML Example

<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-syntax-grammar">
      <ex:homePage rdf:resource="http://purl.org/net/dajobe/"/>
      <ex:fullName>Dave Beckett</ex:fullName>
  <dc:title>RDF/XML Syntax Specification (Revised)</dc:title>

This says that the document "http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-syntax-grammar":


<meta about="http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-syntax-grammar">
    <meta property="ex:editor">
        <meta property="ex:fullName">Dave Beckett</meta>
        <link rel="ex:homePage" href="http://purl.org/net/dajobe/" />
    <meta property="dc:title">RDF/XML Syntax Specification (Revised)</meta>

'about' gives the subject (defaults to the current document)

'property' gives the predicate for a string or XML fragment; the object is in the element content (or the 'content' attribute).

'rel' gives the predicate for a URL: the object is in the href.

Generalising meta

The attributes on <meta> and <link> can be used on any element. For instance:

      <h property="title">My Life and Times</h>

is a way of saying that "My Life and Times" is both the <title> of this document, as the top-level heading.

This work is licensed under the <a rel="dc:rights"
    Creative Commons Attribution License</a>.

There is a standard filter called GRDDL for extracting the RDF from an XHTML2 document.

Why this solution is nice

You can explain it using HTML concepts.

If you don't care, you can just ignore it.

It doesn't require you to learn how to use RDF to be able to benefit from it.

The RDF community get their triples without RDF being imposed on the HTML community.

Problems solved

This approach solves a lot of outstanding problems.

For instance, the Internationalisation community needed a way of adding markup to a title attribute.

Now we can just say that

<p id="p123" title="whatever">

is equivalent to:

<p id="p123">
   <meta about="#p123" property="title">whatever</meta>

And it solves the problem of everyone asking for new elements in XHTML: an element for <navigation>, an element for <note>s (in inline and block versions), an element for lengths, and numbers, and ...

But first a diversion...


The accessibility community needed a way to specify what a particular element was for.

Some examples: that a certain <div> was just a navbar, that another <div> was the main content, etc. So we introduced the 'role' attribute for this. You can now say:

<div role="navigation">...</div>
<div role="main">...</div>

but once we had that mechanism, it allowed us to add any semantics we wanted, layering it on top of the structure. For example:

<p role="note">...

but also

<span role="note">...
<table role="note">...

role values

In fact, anyone can add their own role values, so that whole communities can agree on new semantics to overlay on to the content.

Apparently the mobile and device-independent communities are very excited about the possibilities of using role.

In fact, you don't really need RSS anymore:

<h role="rss:title">...
<p role="rss:description">...

Access key

To go with the role attribute, there is a new way of doing accesskey (which used to be spread through the document). Now in the head you can say things like:

<access targetrole="main" key="M"/>

An advantage of this is that you can have different access keys for different media.

There is also a targetid.


Events in HTML are very restrictive:

So we invented a new markup for events.

XML Events

<input type="submit" onclick="validate(); return true;">

is now

<input type="submit">
    <handler ev:event="DOMActivate" type="text/javascript">

We renamed <script> to <handler> because it is sufficiently different to the HTML <script> to be confusing. In particular document.write no longer works in XML.

... xml events

This approach now allows you to specify handlers for different scripting languages:

<input type="submit">
   <handler ev:event="DOMActivate" type="text/javascript">
   <handler ev:event="DOMActivate" type="text/vbs">

and/or different events:

<input type="submit">
   <handler ev:event="DOMActivate" type="text/javascript">
   <handler ev:event="DOMFocusIn" type="text/javascript">


HTML Frames created several usability problem that caused several commentators to advise Web site builders to avoid them at all costs. Examples are:

XFrames (more)

XFrames defines a separate XML application, not a part of XHTML2 per se, that allows similar functionality to HTML Frames, with fewer usability problems, principally by making the content of the frameset visible in its URI.

There are already 2 implementations (XSmiles, DENG)

XForms: the new Web Forms language

HTML Forms: a great success!





Logging in


Configuring hardware

Linksys router

Reading mail

Reading mail

Composing email

Composing email

Etc etc

So why XForms?

After a decade of experience with HTML Forms, we now know more about what we need and how to achieve it.

Problems with HTML Forms

Soundbite: "Javascript accounts for 90% of our headaches in complex forms, and is extremely brittle and unmaintainable."

XForms, the Approach and the Advantages

XForms has been designed based on an analysis of HTML Forms, what they can do, and what they can't.

The Approach

The essence is to separate what is being returned from how the values are filled in. The relationship between model and body

XForms improves the user experience

XForms has been designed to allow much to be checked by the browser, such as

This reduces the need for round trips to the server or for extensive script-based solutions, and improves the user experience by giving immediate feedback on what is being filled in.

It is easier to author and maintain complicated forms

Because XForms uses declarative markup to declare properties of values, and to build relationships between values, it is much easier for the author to create complicated, adaptive forms, and doesn't rely on scripting.

An HTML Form converted to XForms looks pretty much the same, but when you start to build forms that HTML wasn't designed for, XForms becomes much simpler.

It is XML, and it can submit XML

XForms is properly integrated into XML: it is in XML, the data it collects in the form is XML, it can load external XML documents as initial data, and can submit the results as XML.

By including the user in the XML pipeline, it at last means you can have end-to-end XML, right up to the user's desktop.

However, it still supports 'legacy' servers.

XForms is also a part of XHTML2.

It combines existing XML technologies

Rather than reinventing the wheel, XForms uses a number of existing XML technologies, such as

This has a dual benefit:

It integrates into existing data streams

Data can be pre-loaded into a form from external sources.

Existing Schemas can be used.

It integrates with SOAP and XML RPC.

Doesn't require new server infrastructure.

It is device independent

Thanks to the intent-based controls, the same form can be delivered without change to a traditional browser, a PDA, a mobile phone, a voice browser, and even some more exotic emerging clients such as an Instant Messenger.

This greatly eases providing forms to a wide audience, since forms only need to be authored once.

It is internationalized

Thanks to using XML, there are no problems with loading and submitting non-Western data.

It is accessible

XForms has been designed so that it will work equally well with accessible technologies (for instance for blind users) and with traditional visual browsers.

It is rather easy to implement


    =Regular XHTML Browser

Time to build all of above: 3 programmers, 4 months

Total footprint (on IPAQ implementation): 400K (above Java VM)

In fact this is quite evolutionary: XForms uses existing W3C components. It is only the XForms processing model that describes when to calculate values that is really new.

It is royalty-free and unencumbered

Open standard

Wide industry support

Widely implemented

No vendor lock-in!

(If you think this is a good idea, join W3C!)

New Use Cases

Regular forms uses

Editing XML



As output transformation

Basic structure of XForms

Take this simple HTML form:

    <form action="http://example.com/search"
         Find <input type="text" name="q">
         <input type="submit" value="Go">

The main difference in XForms is that details of the values collected and how to submit them are gathered in the head, in an element called model; only the form controls are put in the body.

... basic structure

So in this case the minimum you need in the head is (XForms elements and attributes are in lower case):


The <form> element is now no longer needed; the controls in the body look like this:

<input ref="q"><label>Find</label></input>
<submit submission="s">

Complete XForms search example

<html http://www.w3.org/2002/06/xhtml2/" xml:lang="en">
            method="get" id="s"/>
     <input ref="q"><label>Find</label></input>     <submit submission="s"><label>Go</label></submit>

Making the Submitted Values Explicit

It is good practice to include an explicit instance, like this:

        <data xmlns=""><q/></data>
        method="get" id="s"/>
<input ref="q">

Initial Values

For initialising controls including initialising checked boxes, and selected menu items etc., you just supply an instance with pre-filled values. For the search example:

    <data xmlns=""><q>Keywords</q></data>

would pre-fill the text control with the word Keywords.

Hidden Values

    <data xmlns="">

Getting Initial Values From Elsewhere

'Editing' any XML document

... example

Editing example

Suppose a shop has very unpredictable opening hours (perhaps it depends on the weather), and they want to have a Web page that people can go to to see if it is open. Suppose the page in question has a single paragraph in the body:

<p>The shop is <strong>closed</strong> today.</p>

Well, rather than teaching the shop staff how to write HTML to update this, we can make a simple form to edit the page instead:

Editing XHTML page

      method="put" id="change"/>
<select1 ref="/h:html/h:body/h:p/h:strong">
<label>The shop is now:</label>
<submit submission="change"><label>OK</label></submit>

XForms controls

XForms has equivalent controls for everything that you can do in HTML.

But there is an important difference: XForms controls are not presentation based, but intent-based – they say what they are meant to achieve not how they do it.

... controls

For instance, a select control

<select1 ref="country">
  <item><label>United Kingdom</label><value>uk</value></item>

can be represented using

depending on the style-sheet or the choice of the device.

XForms equivalents for simple HTML Forms features

As already said, XForms has equivalents for all HTML controls, such as text, text boxes, selecting one or many, file upload, etc.

A user agent may adapt an input control based on knowledge of the data-type involved.

For instance

<input ref="depart">
   <label>Departure date</label>

can pop up a date picker control.

Extra control: range

XForms has a couple of extra controls:

<range ref="volume"
       start="1" end="10" step="0.5">

may be represented with a slider or similar.

Extra control: output

The output control allows you to include values as text in the document.

Your current total is: <output ref="sum"/>


<output ref="sum"><label>Total</label></output>

This can be used to allow the user to preview values being submitted.

... output

You can also calculate values:

Total volume:
  <output value="height * width * depth"/>

(where height, width and depth are values collected by other controls.)

Wizards: toggle and switch

These are used to reveal and hide parts of the interface.

   <case id="inputname">
      <input ref="name">...</input>
         <toggle case="inputage"
                 ev:event="DOMActivate" />
   <case id="inputage">
      <input ref="age">...</input>

An example


Repeat allows you to bind to repeating items in an instance. There are also facilities to delete and insert items in a repeating set.

<repeat ref="expenses/item">
   <input ref="date"><label>Date</label></input>

You have already seen an example

Controlling Controls


The 'model binding' properties that you can control are:

... properties

Note that in XForms it is the collected value that has the property, not the control, but the property shows up on all controls bound to the value.

These properties use a <bind> element that goes in the <model>. To use bind, you must have an explicit <instance> element.

Disabled Controls = relevant

To disable controls you use the relevant property. For instance, to say that the credit card number only needs to be filled in if the person is paying by credit, you can write:

   <instance><data xmlns="">
   <bind nodeset="cc"

An example of what we are going to do

... relevant

... writing the controls

The controls could be written like this (but note that there is no indication that they may get disabled: that is inherited from the value they refer to):

<select1 ref="method">
   <label>Method of payment:</label>
      <label>Credit card</label><value>credit</value>
<input ref="cc/number"><label>Card number:</label></input>
<input ref="cc/expires"><label>Expiry date:</label></input>

Readonly Controls

Similarly to relevant, you can specify a condition under which a value is read-only. For instance:

   <instance><data xmlns="">
   <bind nodeset="color"

This example says that the default value of color is black, and can't be changed if variant has the value basic.

Required Controls

A useful new feature in XForms is the ability to state that a value must be supplied before the form is submitted.

The simplest case is just to say that a value is always required. For instance, with the search example:

   <instance><data xmlns=""><q/></data></instance>
   <bind nodeset="q" required="true()"/>
   <submission .../>

... required

but like the readonly and relevant attributes, you can use any XPath expression to make a value conditionally required:

<bind nodeset="state"

which says that the value for state is required when the value for country is "USA".

It is up to the browser to decide how to tell you that a value is required, but it may also allow you to define it in a stylesheet.

Constraint Property

This property allows you to add extra constraints to a value. For instance:

<bind nodeset="year" constraint=". &gt; 1970"/>

constrains the year to be after 1970.

Note the XPath use of "." to mean "this value".

Calculate Property

It is possible to indicate that a value in the instance is calculated from other values. For instance:

<bind ref="volume"
   calculate="../height * ../width * ../depth"/>

When a value is calculated like this, it automatically becomes readonly.

... calculate functions

There are a number of functions available, including:


... types

... types

There are a number of useful built-in types you can use, including:

... types

You can apply Schemas to instances:

<model schema="types.xsd">

or include them inline:


Combining Properties

If you have several binds referring to the same value, you can combine them:

<bind nodeset="q" type="xsd:integer"


Now to look at details of submission, like multiple submissions, submission methods, and what happens after submission.

Multiple Submissions

   <instance><data xmlns=""><q/></data></instance>
   <submission id="com"
   <submission id="org"

... multiple submissions

and then in the body:

<input ref="q"><label>Find:</label></input>
<submit submission="org">
    <label>Search example.org</label>
<submit submission="com">
    <label>Search example.com</label>


Submission Methods

... submission to file

Life after Submit

... example of different submissions

... example

    <instance><data xmlns="">
    <submission method="get"
        id="prefill" replace="instance"/>
    <submission method="put"
        id="change" replace="none"/>
<input ref="accountnumber"><label>Account Number</label></input>
<submit submission="prefill"><label>Find</label></submit>
<input ref="name"><label>Name</label></input>
<textarea ref="address"><label>Address</label></textarea>
<submit submission="change"><label>Submit</label></submit>

More than one form in a document

... more than one form

<model id="search">
   <instance><data xmlns=""><q/></data></instance>
   <submission id="s" .../>
<model id="login">
   <instance><data xmlns=""><user/><passwd/></data></instance>
   <submission id="l" .../>
<input model="search" ref="q"><label>Find</label></input>
<submit submission="s"><label>Go</label></submit>
<input model="login" ref="user"><label>User name</label></input>
<secret model="login" ref="passwd"><label>Password</label></input>
<submit submission="l"><label>Log in</label></submit>

More than one instance in a model

... more than one instance

   <instance id="currencies">
         <currency name="USD">125</currency>
   <instance id="costs">
<input ref="instance('costs')/date">

... more than one instance

   <instance id="tax" src="/finance/taxes"/>
      <employee xmlns="">

  <bind nodeset="taxrate"
    calculate="if(../salary &gt;
                  50, 33)"/>

Using more than one instance

Useful for filling itemsets in select and select1:

<select ref="value">
   <itemset nodeset="instance(x)">
    <label ref="names"/>
    <copy ref="values"/>

or creating dynamic labels (think multilingual):

<label ref="instance(labels)/label[msg='age']"/>

<label> can also take src="..."


At release XForms had more implementations announced than any other W3C spec had ever had at that stage

Different types of implementation:

Many big players doing implementations, e.g.


As you would expect with a new technology, first adopters are within companies and vertical industries that have control over the software environment used.

As more industries adopt XForms, the expectation is that it will then spread out into horizontal use.

Conclusion (XForms)

XForms is achieving critical mass much faster than we had anticipated. Companies large and small, consortia, even governments and government agencies are beating a path to our door.

Conclusion (XHTML2)

XHTML2 has been designed on the basis of requirements from a large number of different communities.

It has been designed to be as recognisably XHTML as possible within the constraints of the new requirements.

It is going to last call shortly: we welcome your comments!

More Information

Steven Pemberton: www.cwi.nl/~steven